28 Jan 1986- 28 Jan 2021- Challenger 35th Anniversary...

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luke strawwalker
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#1 28 Jan 1986- 28 Jan 2021- Challenger 35th Anniversary...

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Today is the 35th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, which occurred on 28 January 1986. Seven astronauts, expecting a launch scrub due to the extremely cold temperatures overnight at the Cape, due to an unusually strong cold front that blew in the previous afternoon and plunged temperatures at the launch site to a low of about 17 degrees IIRC, got their orders to suit up and head for the pad, and boarded the shuttle later that morning. Among them was New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe, winner of a nationwide teacher contest NASA had orchestrated to select the first "teacher in space" from among thousands of school teacher applicants from across the US. She had won after a series of interviews and other selection criteria were conducted. She joined six other astronauts on the shuttle that day. Unfortunately, none of them knew about grave concerns that certain engineers had with launching the shuttle in such cold temperatures, and a bitter disagreement they were having with management over that very issue, and how it would lead to their deaths 73 seconds after liftoff that clear, sunny, cold morning.



The issue was that the shuttle's solid rocket boosters on either side of the enormous external fuel tank were sealed with rubber o-rings, 12 feet in diameter. The coldest weather a shuttle had launched in previous to that was 53 degrees, and it had been over 30 degrees colder than that overnight at the Cape. Various shuttle flights had returned with burned or eroded O-rings, but that flight had returned with the O-ring not only completely burned away, but a hole as big as a basketball burned through the side of the 2 inch thick maraging steel (special steel used for submarine hulls) booster rocket motor casings that the O-rings were supposed to seal. Fortunately that flight, which had Senator Jake Garn aboard, had experienced this leak too late in flight to destroy the shuttle, and the burn-through hole was on the opposite side of the booster from the nearby huge fuel tank, and didn't get big enough to destroy the shuttle before the boosters expended their propellant and burned out. Challenger would not be so lucky. Engineers met in phone meetings throughout the night and the low temperatures were a concern, but the engineers were overruled by the shuttle program managers, who were already chomping at the bit to launch because the mission had been scrubbed a few times already and the shuttle program overall was behind schedule and not able to meet the flight rates that NASA had promised. Their curt reply to the engineer's concerns was, "My god, Thiokol (the subcontractor company that built the boosters and whose engineers recommended not launching in the cold), when am I supposed to launch? Wait til April?" The decision had been made. There was also anecdotal statements that there was pressure by some people in gubmint to launch the much ballyhooed "teacher in space" mission on-time that morning because her "lesson from space" would coincide with President Reagan's "state of the union" address a couple days later or so, but no confirmation of this has ever surfaced. At any rate, their fates had been sealed. The mission would launch.



The shuttle External Tank, a huge fuel tank 27.5 feet in diameter and over 150 feet long, was filled with super-cold propellants-- the conical upper tank filled with liquid oxygen at -273 degrees, and the much larger lower cylindrical fuel tank below it filled with hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid hydrogen at -423 degrees, all to feed the three 500,000 lb thrust each shuttle main engines at the back end of the orbiter itself. The astronauts were strapped into their seats and the hatch closed and countdown continued. As the countdown neared zero, the 3 main liquid engines on the back of the shuttle ignited in sequence, and a few seconds later the two huge SRB's were ignited. As the boosters ignited, pressure from the dozens of tons of burning ammonium perchlorate solid propellant (APCP), a mixture of the oxidizer ammonium perchlorate (similar to dry fertilizer chemically), aluminum powder for the fuel, and a rubber binder to hold the mixture together, would raise the pressure inside the SRB casing to over 750 PSI. This wave of pressure was supposed to blow the O-rings tight in their grooves, sealing off the paths that gas would use to escape, and preventing the flow of hot burning gases to the rubber O-rings. BUT, the cold O-rings, especially the one on the RH booster which had been shaded by the tank's shadow all morning from the warming morning sun, was still chilled from the bitter cold the night before and was very stiff, and the sudden puff of air blown through the joint by the burning propellant in the middle did NOT seat the O-ring and create a seal. Hot burning flaming gases quickly poured through the gap, and burned the rubber O-ring to a cinder, emitting a large puff of black smoke that was recorded on automated cameras at the launch pad filming the rocket's liftoff, for later analysis in case of such a problem. But nobody knew, and there was nothing that could be done then, as once the boosters were lit, they were like a firecracker or skyrocket-- they cannot be stopped til they burned up all their fuel. Alumina "slag" and other gunk from the burning propellant was also swept into the gap, and solidified and wedged into place, forming a fragile "seal" of sorts, temporarily plugging the leak. The shuttle lifted off uneventfully into the morning sun, as engineers at Thiokol in Utah held their breath thinking the shuttle would explode immediately, and thus the danger was past...



As the shuttle ascended and sped up, it quickly approached and then broke through the speed of sound. The 3 liquid engines on the shuttle orbiter were throttled back, to reduce pressure on the vehicle as it passed through the thick lower atmosphere at this ever increasing high speed, a point called "max q" where the air pushes hardest on the vehicle, creating the most air drag and stress on the structures. After this point, the air is getting steadily thinner even as speed increases, so the stress levels taper off. The boosters were designed in such a way to slow their burn rates at this point, to reduce the forces on the vehicle. As the shuttle continued to ascend, it passed through the strongest wind shear forces ever experienced by a shuttle launch, at precisely this point of maximum stress on the vehicle. The additional vibration and forces were too much for the fragile "seal" of gunk bridging the gap in the SRB seal, and it crumbled and was blown out by the 750+ PSI pressure inside the booster. Again flaming hot gases started racing through the breach. It just so happened, the spot that the O-ring burned through was not pointed away from the tank, but almost directly toward it. It was also a lot earlier in the flight than the previous blow-through on the earlier flight, not just a few seconds before burnout like had happened before. The hot abrasive gases, at several thousand degrees and containing burning particles of aluminum (turning to aluminum oxide as it burned with the rubber binder and ammonium perchlorate, which supplied the oxygen for the reaction) started blasting toward the breach, and blowing out the gap, which started widening due to the blowtorch effect with each passing second, as the roaring blast eroded the steel casing away, widening the gap in an ever accelerating process. The shuttle continued on its ascent to orbit, nobody was aware of what was happening, least of all the astronauts who were just about 100 feet in front of this growing conflagration taking place below them.



The hole got bigger and bigger, faster and faster. The only thing to tip off the mission controllers that anything was wrong was, the gas escaping the booster itself was growing bigger all the time, and soon the ever-growing hole was creating a pressure loss in that SRB compared to the one on the other side which was operating normally. As the pressure fell, the thrust became imbalanced, but the shuttle was designed for a certain amount of that. The hot gases escaping through the hole were not going through the nozzle as intended to create thrust to push the vehicle, but instead were now blowing through this unintended hole. As the hole grew bigger, the amount of gases blowing through it became bigger, accelerating the hole's erosion and growing it ever faster. Soon the escaping gases started creating a side-thrust on the shuttle, which the guidance computers detected and corrected for, steering the shuttle's 3 liquid engines to compensate, pushing back against the growing side-force from the hole in the booster. As the seconds ticked by, the process simply accelerated and grew worse. The capcom in Houston called the normal response at this point in flight-- "Challenger, go with throttle up" and the commander aboard the shuttle responded in kind, "Roger, go with throttle up" as the computers automatically throttled the shuttle's 3 main engines up to maximum power to accelerate through the thinning air toward orbit. Meanwhile, the shuttle's guidance system was fighting to control the vehicle-- the ever-growing hole and greater side thrust it created was detected by the computers, and the engines steered more and more to the side to counteract it, but they could only be steered SO MUCH before they "hit the stops" and couldn't swivel (gimbal) any further-- like a car's steering wheel turned "hard over against the stops" trying to make a hairpin turn. But the booster's hole would continue to grow, and at that point the shuttle would tumble out of control and be destroyed, tearing itself apart in the wall of air it was ripping through like a bug on a windshield. As it was, the location of the hole would cause something different to happen, though the end result was the same.



The flames started out small enough to simply be blown back along the booster between it and the tank by the airstream blowing past the vehicle, but as the hole grew and the blast of hot flaming gas grew, it soon overpowered the thinning air racing past the vehicle. It reached out across the gap between the booster and tank, and soon the blowtorch of flame started blasting against the couple-inch-thick layer of spray-on foam insulation on the side of the thin aluminum tank wall, and the flames roaring back in the slipstream to burn one of the thick struts that connected the aft end of the SRB to the tank wall, connected to a thick aluminum swivel welded to the side of the tank's thin aluminum sheet metal skin. The SRB was held in alignment with the tank and the rest of the vehicle by these struts, against the push-pull effect of the shuttle's gimballing engines steering the vehicle, and the SRB's own gimballing nozzles on the aft end helping steer the vehicle through the air. But now the blast from the hole was pushing the whole vehicle "sideways", trying to turn it clockwise when viewed from below, as the shuttle engines were steered by the computer to push back and keep it flying straight by arresting this twisting force. The forces continued to build up, even as the foam insulation burned away in the conflagration and soon the blast of flaming gas was heating the thin sheet aluminum tank wall itself. The thin aluminum would have melted away almost instantly in the firestorm, but on the backside was liquid hydrogen at -423 degrees, which would have begun to boil vigorously as it touched the hot aluminum sheet, heated by the blowtorch from the booster. Soon all this was more than the structure could handle, and the thin sheet aluminum tore, or the strut holding the booster pushing against the vehicle stack as the shuttle orbiter engines pushed back, while being engulfed in several thousand degree flames from the hole, simply snapped, or the tank wall it attached to buckled and broke. The pivot simply ripped away from the broken aluminum tank wall and the crack instantly ripped to the seam along the bottom of the tank, where the aft dome was welded to the tank, supporting the hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid hydrogen at -423 degrees inside, and the 35-45 PSI or so of pressure inside the tanks that helped push the propellants through the pipes to the shuttle engines in the orbiter, and helped maintain the stiffness and strength of the tank walls to support the loads-- just like a pneumatic tire that when properly inflated can support the weight of the load of a semi truck and its cargo, likewise the pressure in the tanks stiffen the side walls to support the enormous weight and forces acting on it. Now the aft dome, its welds cracking all the way around in a split-second, simply rips off the tank from the tons of liquid propellant pushing down on it against the acceleration. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen spill into the air behind the shuttle in that instant, and now like a blown tire the shuttle tank's thin aluminum wall can no longer support the strain... The booster aft end is free as it rips away the aluminum sheeting of the tank wall around the connections. The forward end of the SRB was the main connection-- essentially a giant trailer ball hitch connected it to the thrust beam in the tank running between the upper conical oxygen tank (where most of the weight of the propellant was, in the dense liquid oxygen, being pushed from below by the enormous I-beam shaped thrust beam, and the larger hydrogen fuel tank below, which held FAR more liquid fuel, but it was relatively light weight liquid hydrogen that weighed less than the oxygen above. The ball-and-socket attach point took almost all the force the SRB exerted, 1.3 million pounds of thrust from each SRB in fact, and transferred it into the External Tank and shuttle vehicle stack itself as the orbiter flew into space. Now with the aft end free and the hole pushing hard against the SRB's aft end away from the disintegrating hydrogen tank, the upper end of the SRB started swinging INWARDS like a jackknifing truck trailer towards the upper oxygen tank. The SRB front end and nosecone contacted the thin sheet aluminum of the oxygen tank near the bottom, and continued pivoting inwards like a giant can opener-- it split the tank wall wide open and the tank wall ripped allowing the thousands of gallons of -273 degree liquid oxygen to spill out into the thin air around the shuttle. All this happened in a fraction of a second, and the mixing ball of liquid hydrogen and oxygen boiling off into vapor ignited into a huge fireball engulfing the vehicle. At this point, one of the astronauts said, "Uh oh!", and that was it.



Inside the fireball, the tank simply ripped to shredded aluminum, it's shards of thin metal would in coming seconds be visible falling out of the fireball as a cloud of glittering confetti of small bits of sheet aluminum, light and with enough surface area to stop almost immediately. The two SRB's, still roaring under thrust, simply ripped away from the remains of the tank and, being made of roughly 2 inch thick solid steel like a submarine hull, simply flew through the huge fireball unscathed, and continued on like nothing happened, tracing a wild corkscrew pattern through the air, since their connection with the guidance computers in the shuttle controlling their nozzle gimbals was now severed-- they simply stuck where they had been when the wires connecting them ripped away. The orbiters computers, sensing something was wrong in those last split seconds, registered the sudden loss of hydrogen pressure to the pump inlets of the 3 main engines in the orbiter's tail, and shut down the engines, even while the guidance system was still trying to gimbal the engines to counteract the enormous side-forces the booster was pushing with, and then that force's sudden disappearance as the tank broke up and the booster ripped free. The engines were nearly "hard over" and essentially when the tank broke up, the orbiter was "overcorrected" and "skidded" sideways in the wall of air it was flying through-- something that the orbiter structure (like any aircraft) is simply not designed to handle. The orbiter was smashed to bits by the onrushing air around it inside the fireball as it careened out of control; it broke apart into a million pieces, with the largest and strongest parts continuing upward, coasting through the fireball and continuing onward in a wild spinning mess of twisted metal and broken hoses and wires. The heaviest parts like the relatively strong crew cabin and the 3 main engines, and large pieces like the rudder and parts of the wings, continued coasting upwards until air drag and gravity won, and started pulling them down into a long fall back to Earth below. In Mission Control, a "major malfunction" was noted as stunned controllers looked at their monitors and the TV feed from the Cape showing the launch. In the Range Safety Officer's (RSO) console at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the RSO pushed "the button" which sent a signal up to the wayward careening booster rockets still tearing across the sky under thrust-- radios aboard the boosters received the signal and detonated linear shaped charges running the length of the booster motor casing segment walls. The shaped charges cut through the steel instantly like a building implosion charge cuts through steel beams to bring down a skyscraper, and the 750-ish PSI internal pressure instantly ripped the boosters wide open to relieve the pressure, snuffing out the boosters and "terminating their flight", since out of control they could possibly impact back on land and kill civilians or destroy property. The terminated boosters would then fall into the sea, with the rest of the doomed Challenger mission.



The crew, meanwhile, inside their ruptured but intact crew cabin, once part of a gleaming orbiter now torn to shreds around it, continued tumbling upwards for a few seconds. One of the astronauts seated behind the pilot switched on his emergency oxygen as they'd been trained to do. Down in the lower deck, the astronauts (like Christa McAuliffe) would have had little idea what had happened but would have known something was terribly terribly wrong. The astronauts on the upper deck would have had a front-row view of the entire thing, with the earth and sky careening wildly outside the front windows. The air pressure inside the crew cabin rapidly vented out into the rarified upper atmosphere, rendering them unconscious. Their "launch suits" at that point were little more than glorified motorcycle suits, flameproof coveralls and "motorcycle helmets" that could supply them with extra oxygen to the pilot and commander in the front seat, but little else. They didn't wear full "pressure suits" like earlier astronauts before the shuttle era had on Apollo and Gemini and Mercury-- the shuttle was deemed "safe enough" not to need such bulky and expensive things once the first four test flights had been completed-- they were done away with along with the ejection seats, to allow for seven astronauts to crowd into a shuttle and for EVA suits needed once in space, stowed below in lockers. This would be reversed and pressure suits reintroduced when shuttle would fly again. But on Challenger, the astronauts would have felt the air rush out of the cabin through the ruptured pressure hull, felt the intense cold of the thin upper atmosphere, and most fell unconscious from lack of oxygen pretty quickly. The pilot, his backup oxygen turned on, as he and the commander would have flown the orbiter back to the Kennedy Space Center runway to land it after a "normal" abort, would have remained conscious most likely, barring serious injury. After all that's what the systems were designed for. But, trapped in a ruptured pressure hull of the disintegrated orbiter, it's wings and tail and virtually the entire structure having been ripped to shreds, there was NOTHING anyone could do now... the cabin spiraled down in its death tumble towards the open sea far below-- two minutes after the disaster tore Challenger asunder, it impacted the ocean at over 200 mph. No one could survive. The shattered cabin, held together by miles of wires for the controls and instruments and sensors on the shuttle and its computers, settled to the ocean floor in about 135 feet of seawater, where it would be found a couple months later (IIRC) by Navy divers. It was recovered as part of the investigation and returned to nearby Cape Canaveral, and then entombed with the rest of the remains of the vehicle in an abandoned Minuteman test missile silo on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which was subsequently sealed and preserved as their final resting place.



Speeches would be made, funerals would be held, and the nation mourned. Vows were made to "carry on" the shuttle program, which continued for another 25 years, in a flawed vehicle that would ultimately cost another seven lives in the Challenger's sister orbiter Columbia almost 17 years and 4 days later on 1 February 2003 when that shuttle broke up during reentry due to fatal damage it received during launch 2 weeks earlier due to foam breaking off the tank and shattering the leading edge of the wing, causing it to burn through in the intense reentry heat and break off, dooming the vehicle to the same fate as Challenger suffered midair... raining parts down over a strip from California to Texas to eastern Mississippi, and taking another seven lives with it, including Israel's first astronaut, Elon Ramon. The loss of Columbia finally signed the end of the shuttle program, though at that point we were SO reliant on it to complete the International Space Station that it had to continue flying until 2011 when it was FINALLY retired, and thankfully so. There had been MANY near misses in the shuttle program-- several flights came back with holes burned through the boosters from O-ring failures prior to Challenger, and shuttles returned from orbit with holes burned in their bellies from missing tiles from foam strike damage, but NASA management failed to recognize or effectively deal with the problems, thinking foolishly that "no harm, no foul"-- since nothing bad HAD happened on THOSE flights, nothing bad COULD happen and they could continue on as usual until they could come up with a solution. Fate proved them wrong, for as a Challenger accident investigator noted, "nature cannot be fooled".



SO let us honor the sacrifice of those brave men and women of both the Challenger and Columbia, and the 3 astronauts before them lost in the Apollo 1 fire-- and vow to never allow "go fever" and the "necessities" of the program or political considerations like funding and program support in government to allow warnings of problems leading to unsafe vehicles to ever supersede the requirements of taking the time, money, and effort to make sure that TOTALLY AVOIDABLE disasters such as these never occur again-- because these were NOT accidents, they were DISASTERS-- accidents can happen due to unforeseen circumstances or things beyond human control-- ALL THREE of these situations were due to factors known and understood WELL IN ADVANCE, but the signs were IGNORED for various reasons, with fatal and tragic results.



Our people deserve better!



God speed the crews of Challenger, Columbia, and Apollo 1. Rest in Peace.



OL J R
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#2 Re: 28 Jan 1986- 28 Jan 2021- Challenger 35th Anniversary...

Post by luke strawwalker »

This was the text of a post I did on Hay Talk forum, for a farm audience. Hence a little more descriptive of terms and things for a non-rocketry related audience than I would have for a rocketry-familiar audience.

Later! OL J R :)
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#3 Re: 28 Jan 1986- 28 Jan 2021- Challenger 35th Anniversary...

Post by bernomatic »

I can only hope that the current administration has as much of a positive attitude for our space program as the previous administration. I don't what part Vice-President Biden played in NASA during the Obama tenure, but let us hope he wasn't the one who wished to pursue such an anti-space sentiment. We will be back to peeing in test tubes and looking for "proofs" of global warming while doing nothing to reach even the moon again. Let us see if the First Woman and next man on the moon program survive.
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#4 Re: 28 Jan 1986- 28 Jan 2021- Challenger 35th Anniversary...

Post by Commander »

May these poor unfortunates rest in peace and the memory of their demise lead NASA back to best path. I realize that losses occur in any such dangerous endeavor, but to lose good people to such neglect as befallen our loses at NASA, is a poor mark on NASA's legacy.
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#5 Re: 28 Jan 1986- 28 Jan 2021- Challenger 35th Anniversary...

Post by bernomatic »

Well, got an answer to my question in a recent NASA news email.
February 03, 2021
RELEASE 21-010
NASA Announces New Role of Senior Climate Advisor

In an effort to ensure effective fulfillment of the Biden Administration’s climate science objectives for NASA, the agency has established a new position of senior climate advisor and selected Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Science in New York, to serve in the role in an acting capacity until a permanent appointment is made.
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#6 Re: 28 Jan 1986- 28 Jan 2021- Challenger 35th Anniversary...

Post by luke strawwalker »

bernomatic wrote: Sun, 31 Jan 21, 22:51 pm I can only hope that the current administration has as much of a positive attitude for our space program as the previous administration. I don't what part Vice-President Biden played in NASA during the Obama tenure, but let us hope he wasn't the one who wished to pursue such an anti-space sentiment. We will be back to peeing in test tubes and looking for "proofs" of global warming while doing nothing to reach even the moon again. Let us see if the First Woman and next man on the moon program survive.
I wouldn't count on it... Oh, it'll continue "as is" more or less to mollify the space state Congressvermin and their big space contractor lobbyists and masters... but NASA itself seems pretty well satisfied with a "make work" program no matter how stupid it may be, whether it actually achieves anything or not. 2024 moon landing is a pipe dream IMHO. It's been just over EIGHTEEN YEARS since the Columbia tragedy, and 17 years since Bush 2's "reset" of US priorities in space by the phase out and retirement of the brittle shuttle system and replacement with a "Moon, Mars, and Beyond" focused program of manned exploration. NASA spent over $9 billion dollars and wasted six years working on the "rocket to nowhere" Ares I before it and the entire Constellation program was scrapped, along with the Ares V rocket and Orion capsule. Orion got a reprieve and was relabeled the "MPCV" and work continued; Ares V was downsized to something approaching feasibility and resurrected as "SLS". Orion would eventually fly in 2014, some four years after Constellation's cancellation, launched aboard an Delta IV Heavy on an unmanned test flight. It's been the ONLY flight so far with Orion. Ares I got only one test flight in 2007 or 08 as a tuna can battleship test version with a four segment first stage, dummy fifth segment added to the first stage SRB, and topped by a battleship fake second stage and BPC to give the correct outer mold line to the vehicle. It had returned SO badly bent that the SRB first stage segments had to be scrapped, and it became clear that a reusable five-segment SRB vehicle was not feasible. That's why SLS's twin five-segment SRB's will simply crash into the ocean and sink rather than be recovered.

Work on SLS has been ongoing for a decade and we STILL haven't had a test flight. Orion hasn't flown in SEVEN YEARS. It's ALL *EXPENDABLE* hardware, so they have to build a new one for EVERY MISSION. Just the program sustainment costs to maintain the capability is enormously expensive, and with the pathetically low flight rates, these costs accrue from year to year on the actual per-mission flight costs, so every SLS, once it IS flying, is going to cost well in excess of TWO BILLION DOLLARS *just for the rocket itself*! A rocket that after about 8 minutes will be in a million pieces on the floor of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans... Not including the cost of the Orion spacecraft, plus any other stages or hardware required to perform the mission, nor the actual mission costs itself, for personnel, support, infrastructure, etc. SLS/Orion is a rocket to nowhere, and it's an ANTIQUATED rocket to nowhere! There is literally NOTHING that SLS block 1 can do that couldn't be done for a FRACTION of the cost RIGHT NOW by the Falcon Heavy. Once Starship is online and functional, it'll be able to FAR outreach the capabilities of SLS for a tiny fraction of the cost, and be FULLY REUSABLE. Even Falcon Heavy is 3/4 reusable! If a hydrogen upper stage were developed to be launched by Falcon Heavy, the additional efficiency would put Falcon Heavy's payload capabilities FAR in excess of SLS block 1. Block 2 of SLS will require the development of new spiral filament wound fully expendable ASRB's for added power, which will cost at least 5-10 billion dollars and take most of a decade I'm sure. A new multi-engine ascent second stage (ala S-II stage), using hydrogen fuel and J-2X engines power, will be needed to achieve the 130 tonnes to orbit payload requirement arbitrarily set by Congress for SLS Block 2. This too will be a multi-billion dollar development taking years to accomplish. Plus now Congress has mandated that NASA develop the in-space propulsion stage, which NASA *had* wanted in years past as a permanent solution in place of the 'interim propulsion stage' (adapted Delta-IV Heavy upper stage) which SLS block 1 intends to use for an in-space propulsion stage (ala S-IVB). J-2X is too heavy and inefficient an engine for this stage, as it was reengineered for use as an ascent (second stage) rocket engine for the anemic Ares I.

Plus, just lately the Senate space committee has slapped down NASA for only rewarding a commercial lunar lander development contract to SpaceX. Blue Origin quickly had the Senator from Washington State that they own slap NASA down for only issuing ONE contract versus the two originally promised, after Congress only appropriated $2 billion dollars, which is basically just enough to start work with ONE contractor. After filing a protest and getting rival Dynetics, also a runner up behind SpaceX like Blue Origin in the competition, to join in its protest of the outcome. OF course SpaceX came in with the best design, the most realistic and capable, and for the lowest bid. Plus SpaceX's "lunar starship" is basically designed for reuse right out of the box, though NASA may not elect to use it that way-- Dynetics' proposal for a 'drop tank lander' isn't designed for reuse, but the possibility exists should NASA wish to fund development of a means to ship filled drop tanks to the Moon and the capability to attach them to the Dynetics lander to allow it to be reused. Blue Origin's lander design was an atrocious KLUDGE of drop stages discarded on the way down to the Moon and expended landing stages left on the Moon, with basically just the ascent stage and crew cabin returning to orbit, non-reusable of course. One cannot reuse crasher stages that have crashed into the Moon or spent stages left on the lunar surface, of course, so there is no realistic path to "reusability" for the Blue Origin design, though in fairness NASA did not stipulate reusability or the possibility of reuse as a contract design requirement. But it seems wholly foolish to spend billions developing a lander that is INCAPABLE of reuse by its very nature-- especially when POTENTIALLY REUSABLE and *designed to be reusable* options like the Dynetics and SpaceX landers, respectively, are on the table. In addition from what I've read Blue Origin's component chain is extremely fuzzy, relying on other vendors components to construct essential parts of their lander, parts which might not be available in the future and which are outside their control and manufacturing chain. Plus one of the landers, either Blue Origin or Dynetics, didn't even "close" the design, meaning that it was heavier than what they were saying it was, which might make it incapable of flying the mission set for it without serious modifications and improvements! SpaceX's lunar starship had NONE of these problems!

SO, having asked for $10 billion to fund a commercial lunar lander program and having received TWO billion, NASA elected to choose only the BEST design from the competition-- SpaceX's lunar starship. Two billion split two ways would basically just be wasted, as neither team could develop their vehicle for that pittance and the work would simply grind inexorably to a halt on BOTH proposals. $2 billion COULD fund ONE proposal at least for long enough to develop the design and gain confidence in its capabilities. BUT the Congressvermin won't have it... gotta protect their master's interests, after all. They quickly wrote an amendment to a bill designed to keep the US ahead of Red Chinese technological developments REQUIRING NASA to issue TWO contracts, regardless of funding (or lack thereof), and also REQUIRING them to develop the in-space propulsion stage, which is another $5 billion dollar bone thrown to Congress's favorite space contractor, Boeing... after all, they've done such a WONDERFUL job on CST-100 Starliner commercial crew capsule that two of their most senior astronauts on the team have quit, or so I've read, and they won't even have a test flight until the second half of this year, and *perhaps* a two-person test flight to ISS *IF* everything goes as planned by the end of the year, if the schedule holds and all goes perfectly... Meanwhile after the CST-100 debacle, the third contractor proposal in the Commercial crew program, which was won years ago by SpaceX and Boeing, respectively, has continued to be developed on their own dime-- the Dream Chaser by Sierra Nevada corporation... which they're hoping for development flights in the next year or two so I've read. Dream Chaser is of course a small shuttle orbiter-like vehicle capable of transporting crew to/from the ISS and even performing ISS reboost, as well as resupply missions, and like shuttle is designed to glide down and land on a runway, but be launched inside a payload fairing of a conventional rocket. Anyway, NASA isn't even sure if they actually NEED the in-space propulsion stage, which is why they haven't pushed for or awarded a contract for it-- I think there are forces within NASA that now realize that by the time any of the Artemis missions, beyond these first couple "experimental missions" are actually performed, particularly the "follow on" more advanced missions to the Moon to stay for long period and set up a temporary moon base or whatever, are actually ready to fly, that Starship or some other fully reusable and MUCH more capable COMMERCIAL launch vehicle will be available, and therefore all that money and years spent developing all this stuff will be wasted and completely unnecessary, or if they DO actually end up flying any of it it'll look ridiculously obsolete and expensive by comparison. If SpaceX Starship development continues successfully (as it has) and it works (which is looking more and more likely), because let's face it, they're doing the HARD PART right now-- retrieving and landing intact a second stage designed for reuse... the Starship first stage will present different but far more manageable problems, ones that SpaceX has had to overcome before, that being, design, construction, testing, and integration of a reusable large first stage vehicle, so there's little reason to expect that they WOULDN'T be successful, even if they have their share of expected bumps along the way... which is natural in spaceflight vehicle development. If NASA is confident enough in SpaceX's numbers and proposals to award the contract for a commercial lunar lander to lunar Starship, which of course RELIES COMPLETELY upon a Starship first stage to launch it from Earth in the first place, then they tacitly think that SpaceX WILL be successful with Starship in the long run, even if their current schedule is "ambitious". Maybe, just *maybe*, some of NASA people are starting to figure out that SpaceX, unfettered by the unbounded bureaucracy and partisan politics that has crippled it since the late 60's, can achieve the sorts of things NASA *USED* to be able to do in the early-mid 60's, when the goal was straightforward and a matter of pressing national urgency, and when gubmint "got out of the way" to let them do the job they were assigned in the quickest and most efficient way possible... And maybe, just maybe, some of them actually long for those days and would like to see the US achieve greatness in space again. Which we can, definitely, but not in a meaningful or sustainable way, by spending decades and billions to duplicate old outdated methods of doing things while watching superior reusable sustainable cheaper "new ideas" being developed commercially around them...

At any rate, it's "business as usual" at NASA, particularly when it comes to the Congressvermin and their standard operating procedures... I thought maybe we'd FINALLY get some actual progress when they retired that old fossil Bill Gerstenmaier, the "shuttle mafia don of dons"... now of course they just swore in another "good old boy" from the shuttle contractor mafia, former Senator Bill Nelson as NASA chief... So the same old same old will surely prevail-- partisan politics and awarding the right space state former shuttle contractors fat cost-plus contracts to spend years developing stuff that will never fly or get cancelled and replaced by other stuff they get paid to develop that will never fly... and if any of it DOES fly it'll be YEARS late and BILLIONS over budget... SSDD.

Maybe SpaceX will give NASA a ride to the Moon in a few years when they're ready to go...

Later! OL J R :)
My MUNIFICENCE is BOUNDLESS, Mr. Bond...
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